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Commerce secretary's investments spark controversy (again)

In the race to be Donald Trump's most controversial cabinet member, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is inching ahead.
Image: Donald Trump, William Barr, Wilbur Ross
President Donald Trump, joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, and Attorney General William Barr, speaks during an event about the census in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, Thursday, July 11, 2019.

The sheer volume of controversies surrounding Wilbur Ross is almost impressive. Just over the last couple of months, Donald Trump's Commerce secretary reportedly threatened to fire NOAA officials unless they endorsed the president's misstatement about a hurricane, was blamed for the White House's failed Census gambit, and was characterized as a hapless leader of a cabinet agency that's reportedly reaching "new heights of dysfunction."

And while Ross and his team have pushed back against each of these stories, things don't appear to be getting any better for the Commerce secretary. Forbes' Dan Alexander reported last night:

Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross did not cut ties to a shipping fund he promised to divest, according to a new financial disclosure report obtained by Forbes. He still owns an interest in Starboard Recovery Associates LP worth $1,000 to $15,000. Under the liabilities section of the filing, Ross also lists a "capital commitment" to a related company for $1 million to $5 million. [...]According to the new filing, Ross' remaining interest in Starboard gives him an indirect share of a handful of shipping assets with nondescriptive names like WLR/TRF KZ Holding I LLC and WLR/TRF Tanker Two LLC. Forbes obtained additional documents that describe the business of several of those holdings. Many of the companies were created to invest in the products of shipyards in the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.

In case this isn't already obvious, it's not great when a Commerce secretary, whose agency works on international shipping, maintains private investments in international shipping.

If this sounds at all familiar, it's because there have been other reports along these same lines during his tenure about Ross maintaining stakes "in companies co-owned by the Chinese government, a shipping firm tied to Vladimir Putin's inner circle, a Cypriot bank reportedly caught up in the Robert Mueller investigation and a huge player in an industry Ross is now investigating."

Two months ago, Ross said he was moving forward with a plan to sell all of his equity holdings, though as Forbes added last night, the Commerce secretary "did not get rid of everything."

This comes on the heels of another controversy from earlier this year in which Ross was also accused of inaccurately reporting his stock holdings.

Four months later, the New York Times reported that Ross "shorted stock in a shipping firm -- an investment tactic for profiting if share prices fall -- days after learning that reporters were preparing a potentially negative story about his dealings with the Kremlin-linked company."

The Commerce secretary has denied any wrongdoing.

That said, if there were a competition ranking the most controversial members of Donald Trump's cabinet, it wouldn't be hard to make a compelling case for Wilbur Ross as number one.